Welcome to St Matthew’s Church, Morley Derbyshire.
Thought for the Month
SOME HOLY LAND ANNIVERSARIES
50 years ago this month I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I was a gapyear student paid by Surrey County Council to film the trip. The Six Day War had just happened; victorious Israelis imposed a curfew on all Palestinians, including our party staying in a bullet holed hotel in Bethany; 12 hours a night with no air-conditioning in sweltering heat was no joke; but we students had a great time. None of us had ever seen burned-out tanks before; none of us had ever been in a refugee camp before; and none of us wanted to see such things again.
We had planned to come home overland, but the war had closed borders; so we spent several days on a cargo ship sailing from Haifa to Istanbul to be broken up; on the way we saw Cyprus (touring an orange juice factory), Rhodes (meeting the Knights of St John) and ran round the remains of Ephesus. Istanbul had just suffered an earthquake, meaning no running water and intermittent electricity. But the Ecumenical Patriarch (the head of the Orthodox Church) came out of retreat to meet us, preaching reconciliation and care for the environment – long before that became fashionable. Then we were bussed across Europe to Ostend; my chief memory of those days being a guided tour of Sofia’s Cathedral, then communist Bulgaria’s museum of an ancient religion, our Christianity.
My experiences of July 1967 have coloured the rest of my life, especially the many pilgrimages I have since led to the Holy Land – for which this is a year of anniversaries. It is 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, which, originating from a desire to compensate the Jewish people for centuries of persecution (more than 20 years before the Nazi Holocaust), replaced one injustice with another, namely displacing the indigenous Arab (Christian and Muslim) people of the land. It is 70 years since the ill-fated UN Partition Plan for British Mandate Palestine. It is 50 years since the start of Israel’s illegal occupation of what was left of Palestine (then administered by Jordan) and 10 years since the beginning of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
I pray that the commemoration of these events, which reverberate into the present as the root of so much anger and anguish in the Middle East (and the excuse for most international terrorism), may be accompanied by a recognition of truth and a turnaround of attitude.
The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall